- Written by webmin
We have to thank Paul Jaray for pointing out the appearance of the Gorgoni Via Col Vento in the April 1947 issue of Popular Mechanics; otherwise, we might never have stumbled upon the story of Bunny V. Ronco and his Volkswagen-based homebuilt car.
Ronco, whose given name was Bonaventura, was born in 1903 in Flicksville, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles directly north of Philadelphia. He had ambitions of becoming a race car driver, but instead went on to study engineering at Lafayette College, graduating in 1925. Two years later, he was working as an assistant test engineer at International Motor Company, and by 1931 he was working for Mack Trucks in nearby Allentown, where he spent the rest of his career, retiring in 1968.
In November 1944, Ronco learned of a war surplus scrapyard in New York state and acquired from the scrapyard two Volkswagen air-cooled engines and three Volkswagen transmissions, all of which came from North Africa. He then pulled off the rear fenders from a couple Nash 400s, connected four of the fenders together with rolled steel, and built a car around the Volkswagen drivetrains using a drinking water tank from an airplane for a gas tank and aircraft bucket seats. His car, which he dubbed the Ronco Roadster, weighed 1,350 pounds, was capable of 67 MPH and 35 MPG, and featured four-wheel independent suspension. Ronco claimed it cost him $700 and either 2,000 or 5,000 man-hours to build, depending on the source.
The local Lehigh Valley Morning Call featured the roadster in December 1945 and it later appeared in the April 1947 issue of Popular Mechanics. Though it generated plenty of interest both times, Ronco maintained that he had no plans to market the roadster, either directly to the public or to any of the carmakers. He sold the roadster to a friend and lost track of it as it passed through subsequent owners. It later appeared in Keith Seume and Bob Shaill’s book, “Volkswagen Beetle: Coachbuilts and Cabriolets 1940-1960.”
Interestingly, two photos of the roadster appeared in the Popular Mechanics article: one showing it topless with a cutaway door, the other showing it with a hinged door and with the top up. The windshield differs from one photo to the next, leading us to wonder whether Ronco built two roadsters or built one and modified it along the way.
According to his obituary in The Morning Call, Ronco later built an electric car, a pontoon boat from a pair of war surplus bellytanks and a motorcycle engine for his brother Pat. Pat, it should be noted, is the same Pasquale “Pat” Ronco who was inducted into the Indian Motorcycle Museum’s Hall of Fame and who owned the Ronco Motors dealership and auto repair shop in Bangor, Pennsylvania, from 1935 to 1988. (According to the 1983 AMC dealership listing, Ronco Motors was still selling AMCs then, at 35 Blue Valley Drive. That address now seems to be the location for Bill Albert’s Garage, Inc.) Pat, a longtime Nash and American Motors devotee, also fulfilled his brother’s dream of becoming a race car driver, with his AMX-based R-12 modified, a very successful car at Nazareth Speedway.
Pat, Bunny’s junior by six years, died in 1995. Bunny died five years later at the age of 97.